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May 12, 2011
Dropping The Puck
Good Ol' Fashioned Variance

by Kent Wilson

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In a recent column for TSN.ca, Scott Cullen shared some of the notable win-loss ratios for individual players across the league from the regular season. The article is interesting in terms of trivia, but not informative in terms truly illuminating the influence of the players in question.

The latter is true because single NHL players just don't have enough influence to overcome the myriad factors that affect a club's record, particularly over the short term. Variables such as strength of schedule, travel, other injuries, goaltending performance, officiating and good ol' fashioned variance hold significant sway over wins and losses.

This is a similar reason that "Wins" as stat for evaluating goalies has been largely discredited: there's too much left unsaid—too many assumptions—to simply assign credit for the victory to a single player. Even a goalie, who can probably has the most influence (for better or worse) on a team's goal differential of any single player on the team.

For skaters, this is more pertinent by several orders of magnitude: only the best forwards, for instance, play 20+ minutes per game. That is about a third of the total minutes of your average regulation contest. For lesser skaters, their game-by-game impact is even more muted: a third pairing defender or third/fourth line skater may only see 10-12 minutes of ice in an evening or about one-sixth of the game.

Another way to think about is GVT: the top-rated forward by that metric this season was Daniel Sedin at +25.3. That means Sedin was worth about 25 more goals to his team this season than a replacement level player. A win costs about 6 goals in terms of goal differential and a single standing point costs about three goals. That means Daniel Sedin—the best forward in the league in terms of GVT—was worth about four wins or eight points for the Canucks this year. Over the entire season.

This is why Cullen's list doesn't pass the sniff test, even at a glance. The Washington Capitals' record with Jason Arnott in the lineup at the end of the year was 10-0-1 for a points percentage of .955. Before he arrived, they were "merely" 38-23-10 or .606. Does this tell us anything meaningful about Jason Arnott? No. Not in the slightest. The Devils were terrible with the same Arnott in the lineup earlier in the year.

To be fair to Cullen, he mentions some of the issues with this measure at the onset of the article. That said, the fact remains the information is more interesting than useful.

Speaking of useful stats, Scott Reynolds of Copper and Blue provides his scoring chance overview of the Canucks and Predators series here. It's no surprise that Ryan Kesler was dominant by this measure versus the Preds (chance ratio = 73.5%), but what will likely come as shock for many is just how well the Sedins did at even strength as well (combined 74.2%). The difference was the percentages: Kesler made his chances count this round, the Sedins didn't. Given what we know about the back-to-back Art Ross Trophy winners, there's a good chance that lack of production won't last much longer.

The Flames are golfing right now, but I take look at their regular season scoring chance and goals (for and against) ratios in this article.

A chance had about a 16% probability of becoming a goal both for and against for the Flames this season at five-on-five, but some individual players varied around the means pretty significantly. Probably the biggest outlier was Anton Babchuk, who saw a finish percentage (chances/goals) of 23.4% (!!), meaning nearly a quarter of the scoring chances that occurred with him on the ice ended up in the net. Short of Babchuk being the next Bobby Orr, that's likely almost all randomness, so the Flames should tread lightly when looking to re-sign the pending UFA*.

*Related in his article, Scott Cullen notes that the Flames record improved from .412 to .615 with Babchuk in the lineup. Coincidence? In a word: Yes.

Finally, John Fischer of In Lou Trust concludes a four-part series on defenseman Andy Greene and whether the club can internally replace him should he choose to test free agency. After looking at his results at even strength, the penalty kill, the power-play and his underlying numbers, Fischer suggests that Greene is capable but not irreplaceable.

This strikes me as a credible conclusion. Greene was middling across the board last year in terms of quality of opposition, zone starts and possession. He's also 28 years old, so there's little chance of a big step forward. If he asks for a raise, the Devils should probably look to other options.

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article NHL Playoffs, Conferen... (05/11)
<< Previous Column
Dropping The Puck (04/21)
Next Column >>
Dropping The Puck (05/27)
Next Article >>
NHL Playoffs, Conferen... (05/13)

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